Against the Documentary Hypothesis

It is not perhaps as well-known as it should be that Geerhardus Vos published a treatise called The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes. In this volume, he has some wise words about the supposed criteria used to “prove” disparate sources:

What the critics in reality do by this method, is just by a dexterous but suspicious movement to turn in their favor what is in fact against them. That an Elohistic phrase all at once makes its appearance in the midst of a purely Jehovistic environment, is a most perplexing difficulty, which cannot be relieved by declaring it the result of a variety of hands which have been at work upon the composition of the Pentateuch. For it is a sound critical axiom, that diversity of style and diction can only be verified by a comparison of lengthy passages, whose usus loquendi is exclusive. Isolated exceptional cases turn back upon the theory, and prove exactly the opposite; viz., that the criteria intermingle, which is tantamount to saying that they are no criteria at all (p. 29).

Warnings Against Presumption

A very incisive warning against false security is found in Eichrodt’s commentary on Ezekiel 5:5-17:

In both passages (he means Ezekiel 16:48ff in addition to 5:5-17, LK) we see the special danger which overhangs the God-given gift of grace. It is that false security, which prides itself upon its privileged position, making it into a pillow for human sloth and selfishness to slumber on. God’s free gift ought to be regarded as a call to service; it does not at all satisfy man’s lustful desires, but it does open to the human will a new possibility of union with God’s saving will. But man instead soothes himself with irrevocable assurances of the divine good pleasure, so as to save himself from having to make any efforts, and to make him the proprietor of a divine domain specially reserved for him alone to enjoy. This refusal to make the right response to the question which lies in God’s gift can have no other outcome but disregard for the ‘statutes and ordinances'” (Eichrodt, Ezekiel, p. 91).

An Argument Against Exclusive Psalmody

Let it be known at the beginning of this post that I love the Psalms, and that I believe the Psalms should be sung in worship frequently, just not exclusively. I heard this argument recently from a new friend of mine in the OPC, by name, the Rev. Brett Mahlen. He used to be EP himself, and so he knows the position from inside, as it were. The argument goes like this: the way most EP proponents phrase the matter is that we can only sing in worship words that are inspired, and that the Bible commands us only to sing the Psalms (usually they interpret Colossians 3:16 to refer to the Septuagintal division of the Psalter into psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs). The argument from my friend addresses the first half of the statement. If we may only sing inspired words, then we cannot sing in English, since the translation into English is not itself inspired; only the autographs are inspired. If we then say that the English translation (into meter, which involves considerable paraphrasing!) is inspired, then we are undermining our doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration. English metrical Psalms, as beautiful as they can be (and most worthy of being sung, I might add!), are not inspired Scripture.

Furthermore (and this is now my addition to the argument), by saying that only the very words of the Psalter may be sung, proponents of EP commit a word-concept fallacy. To remind ourselves, the word-concept fallacy is an error in logic that happens when people believe that words are the same thing as ideas, whereas the truth of the matter is that we use words to express ideas, even though those ideas could be expressed with different words. To flesh it out a bit more, an idea can be present even though a specific word is not used. Similarly, just because a specific word is present does not mean that the idea is also present. In this case, the word-concept fallacy is committed by saying that what is meant in the Psalter can only be obtained by singing the very words themselves. Then the error is compounded by saying that the English metrical Psalters can fit the bill of singing the ipsissima verba (the very words) of Scripture. Ironically, in other places in their Reformed theology, EP proponents would not commit this fallacy. For instance, Reformed EP proponents all (as far as I know) hold that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, even though the word “Trinity” nowhere occurs in the Bible. They recognize that the concept of the Trinity is very much present (even obviously so!), and yet the word “Trinity” is not present. The word “Trinity” is our shorthand to express the fact that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there is only one God. So there is not a consistency here with EP proponents: they say that we may only sing the very words of the Psalter, and yet they advocate English metrical Psalters to accomplish this, which English Psalters are not the very words of the inspired Psalms.

To push the point a little further, we may remember that several commentators on the Psalms have said that the Psalter is a mini-Bible. My description of the Psalter would be that it is an emotional commentary on all of Scripture, mostly in the form of prayers. The Psalter thus extends its influence on all the rest of Scripture in one way or another. If this is so, then it is by no means unreasonable to assert that any hymn that is biblical in content reflects the teaching of the Psalter.

Of course, no case whatsoever can be made for a position that says we must all learn Hebrew so that we will sing the Psalter in the original language. That would again commit the word-concept fallacy. The content of Scripture can be translated into other languages, and it is the content of Scripture that we want available to us. Translation of Scripture is implied in the Great Commission of Matthew 28, among other places.

So the EP proponent, if he admits the force of this argument, might respond by saying, “Well, as long as we have the content of the Psalter, then we are good.” However, once one has gotten over the hump of the word-concept fallacy, the whole game is given away, because of what I wrote two paragraphs ago. It seems to me that the claim that we must only sing the inspired Psalms is an essential linch-pin in the EP argument. Without it, the whole thing collapses to the ground. The EP proponents singing metrical Psalms in English are not singing the inspired Psalms, because they are not singing the original Hebrew.

My position is that we must sing only what is biblical. But by the term “biblical” I mean what is biblical in content. We do not need to sing only the very words of Scripture. Otherwise we would have to sing in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. We need to sing the content of Scripture. There is a continuum, therefore, of “biblicalness” when it comes to what we sing. Some can only marginally be called Scriptural. Songs like “In the Garden” have content that can be argued as being anti-biblical (really, an experience that none other has ever known? Are you the recipient of direct divine revelation or something? What kind of walking and talking with me is the song singing about?). We should aim, therefore, to ask the right question: is this hymn biblical in its content?

Why Christians Can Never Be Anti-Semitic

Anti-Semitism is still alive and well out there. Many people hate Jews. Many people hate Israel, the land. This option is not open to the Christian, although maybe not for the reasons most would suppose.

Although I’ve known this ever since seminary days, it has struck me more and more forcefully (as I preach through Matthew for the second time) that Jesus is true Israel, and that Matthew portrays him as reliving Israel’s story, yet in a faithful way. Coming out of Egypt, fulfilling Hosea 11:1, that bane of interpreters, being baptized in the Jordan, being tempted in the wilderness; all these things prove that Jesus is the faithful remnant of one, the true Israel, the faithful and obedient Israel, who has come to redefine Israel as a faith thing instead of a genealogical thing. Certainly Paul interprets Jesus as doing this in Galatians 3, 6, and Romans 9-11. The true child of Abraham is the one who has the same faith as Abraham, a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5).

If Israel is thus redefined, then a true Jew is not one outwardly, but inwardly, by the Spirit, not the letter. All Christians are children of Abraham. The old song about Abraham having many children, and we are among them rings true, here.

So the reason why we cannot be Anti-Semitic is that we are Jews by faith. We are Jews in the redefined sense of Jesus and Paul. The story of Israel is our story. If we Gentiles (by birth) have been grafted in, then we cannot possibly look down on the natural branches that have been cut out, nor can we boast over them, as if we were somehow more lovable than them. As Paul would say, couldn’t the natural branches be grafted back in to their own olive tree most naturally, indeed more naturally than foreign branches being grafted in? Yes, there is only one way of belonging to the tree now, and that is to be in the one true olive tree of Jesus Christ. There are not two trees (sorry, Dispensationalists!). Should we not, therefore, have the utmost compassion for the natural branches and pray for their re-grafting? Paul loved his people, and wished (if it could have been done) that he could endure condemnation forever if it would spare his kinsmen according to the flesh. I think Paul’s compassion well worth emulating at this point, don’t you?

This means that reading the Old Testament is reading our story, not someone else’s story. These are our fathers and mothers in the faith. Their struggles are our struggles. Dispensationalism has not helped the Christian church, since it has focused people’s minds on physical Israel so much as an “alternate” people of God. They think they can fulfill prophecy by helping Jews return to Israel. This makes them blind, ultimately, to the fact that Christians are the true children of Abraham, not in a supersessionist way, but in an organic way. The promises of Abraham come to us. This is why the Old Testament will never become irrelevant to the Christian, contrary to how the Dispensationalist treats the Old Testament.

Psalm 2 Prayer

Our one true and only king, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not only do we desire to worship you, but we also desire to submit to you. We both lament the fact and are righteously angry that the nations to do not desire to submit to you. How dare the nations rise up in anger against you! How dare they conspire against the Lord, thinking that they can throw off the bonds of your sovereignty! How dare they use the intellect you gave them and resources that you gave them to rebel against you! How dare they seek to dethrone Jesus Christ, whose throne is utterly secure, beyond the reach of any who oppose you!

We know, Father, that such attempts, while offensive to us, are simply ridiculous to you. To you it must seem like these pitiful ants are crawling around on the ground seeking a way to bring down an elephant. And yet, you have also said that your mere words will be enough to put them in their place. For you have established your Son as King on Zion, high and exalted. You crowned Him with glory and honor, and have made all the nations his inheritance, the entire earth his possession.

These brittle nations who oppose you, you will break with a rod of iron, like a piece of pottery. Father, give us the words to say to these nations and rulers. Help us to advise them to be wise, such that they would serve you all their days, that they would fear you, instead of being arrogant; that they would rejoice in your name and your righteousness, and your kingdom. Father, may we all kiss your Son Jesus, submitting to him with deepest reverence, for we know that we want to avoid your wrath, and instead find in you the most blessed refuge for us.

Are Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 Two Different Creation Accounts?

It is a commonplace in historical-critical scholarship to say that there are two creation accounts that contradict each other, and that therefore, the first two chapters of Genesis could not have been written by the same author. The first bit of evidence given is that, in Genesis 1, plants are created before humans, whereas in chapter 2, plants were created after humans. The second bit of evidence is the order of creation for animals vis-a-vis man: in Genesis 1, animals are created before man on the sixth day, whereas in Genesis 2, they are supposedly created after (depending on one’s translation of the verb “formed” in 2:19). What is more, historical-critical scholars tend to view any attempt to see the relationship of these chapters in a different way as a “harmonizing” attempt (as if harmonizing were some kind of dirty word). I will make the argument here, not even based on harmonizing with regard to the first bit, but based on exegesis, that the historical-critical understanding of the relationship of the chapters is in grave error.

The exegetical flow of Genesis 2:5-9 has to do with the institution of agriculture. How did it get started? Well, before it got started, there were two “problems” or “things lacking” to rectify. The first was that there was no rain, and the second was that there were no farmers. Agriculture does rather depend on these two things even today! Going back all the way to Keil and Delitzsch’s commentary, the “bush of the field” and “the plant of the field” in verse 5a are not descriptive, then, of all kinds of plants. Rather, they are limited to cultivated crops (the designation “of the field” points this way). This is absolutely proven by the second of the two reasons given for why these plants were not present. The first reason, “no rain,” of course, would be a good reason for why any plant had not yet appeared. So, that reason for the lack of plants is inconclusive for our point. However, “no man to work the ground” in verse 5b cannot possibly be a reason for why wild plants were not present. Wild plants do not need humans to work the ground in order to thrive. Therefore, to interpret the “bush of the field” and “plant of the field” in verse 5a to refer to all plants of whatever kind is irresponsible exegesis.

Whatever one may think of Kline’s exegesis of these verses, I think his point about verse 6 is well worth considering. A two-fold “problem” needs a two-fold solution. Kline believes that verse 6 is a. speaking about a rain-cloud, and b. giving us the solution to the first problem (no rain). Verse 7 then describes the fix to the second problem (no farmer). This interpretation is confirmed, then, in verses 8-9, where a garden (cultivated plants!) is planted, and verse 9, where the emphasis is on the food quality of the plants. Verses 5-9 then tell us of the introduction of cultivation in history, which is a large part of the cultural mandate of 1:28-29. This points to continuity between the two chapters, not discontinuity. As many scholars have noticed, chapter 1 treats of the creation of all things with a sort of wide-angle lens, whereas chapter 2 turns on the telephoto lens in order to focus more specifically on the creation of man, and the covenant which God made with him.

One last comment on this first part of the issue: I have yet to see a single liberal treatment of Genesis 1-2 that even acknowledges these exegetical points. They simply assume, without any argument, that, “of course,” Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contradict each other. One suspects that, even if a liberal were to read about these arguments for explaining the text, they would push such considerations under the rug, because they favor the idea of a contradiction, since it supports the JEDP source theory. Of course, a single author could not have had such things in mind as a more general account of the creation of all things in chapter 1, and the focus on the creation of humanity in chapter 2. Quite impossible! It seems to me that ancient authors might have been a bit more flexible than the modern historical critics give them credit for!

The second bit of evidence given is the order of creation with regard to animals and man. If 2:19 is translated, “Now out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heaven,” then yes, there is an issue there. But if, with the NIV and ESV, the verb “form” is translated as a pluperfect “had formed,” the entire question is resolved. The issue is whether the verb can be translated this way. The grammar of Gesenius/Kautzsch/Cowley seems to think this is a possibility. It cites Genesis 2:19 as an example of an imperfect being used “In dependent clauses to represent actions, &c., which from some point of time in the past are to be represented as future” (par. 107k). Waltke and O’Connor do not list Genesis 2:19 as an example of the wayyqtl representing a pluperfect sense, though they allow that this is a possible use of the wayyqtl, while admitting that it is controversial (see 33.2.3).

Joüon-Muraoka (in the second edition; the first edition does not discuss the issue) would call this use of the imperfect “very irregular.” J-M argues that the pluperfect can only be expressed by avoiding wayyqtl (166.j). Davidson allows for a third possibility for the imperfect: “to express actions which are contingent or depending on something preceding” 43(b). The upshot of the discussion is this, that we have four options. The first option is to translate “formed” as a simple past, interpret the form as a contradiction, and thus assume an absolutely idiotic redactor, who couldn’t spot the contradiction with chapter 1 if his life depended on it. Or, secondly, we could interpret the form as a pluperfect, which IS grammatically possible, at least according to GKC and W-O’C, and thereby alleviate the difficulty entirely, thus assuming a reasonably intelligent author. The third option is go with Davidson’s approach, and interpret the verb as expressive of an action which was dependent on some previous action, though I am not entirely sure how that would help us. The fourth option is maybe the simplest one: translate as a simple past, but then note that 2:19 does not have to express a time relation between the creation of the animals and the creation of man. I prefer option 2 or option 4.

Does this mean I am harmonizing where the text does not allow me? I would argue no. These are legitimate exegetical options. But if all it takes to “reconcile” these two passages is interpreting a verb form in a perfectly acceptable grammatical way, or suspending a time relation between two actions, recognizing along with many Hebrew scholars that narrative continuity is not the same as temporal continuity, then I would argue that the contradiction is the mind of the liberal critic, who forces it on the text. In literary terms, a contradiction should only exist if there is no other possible alternative, since we must assume that the author knew what he was doing, and was not an idiot. The problem that the liberal critic has is that he or she is so confident that there is a contradiction present that they are willing to build an entire theory of sources on this basis (along with the different names of God used in chapters 1 and 2, which would be subject matter for a different post). I hope I have shown that no contradiction is necessary from natural interpretations of the text. Where contradictions are not the only option, they should not be chosen. This is all the more true if we believe that God is the ultimate author of the Bible and that He cannot lie.

Psalm 1 Prayer

I have taken to praying the Psalms in corporate worship, and what I am doing is making the wording corporate, interpreting the Psalm christologically, and seeking to make the Psalm ours. This is my effort at praying Psalm 1:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have revealed to us that we are blessed if we do not walk in the council of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scoffer. Make us instead to delight in your law, that we might meditate on it day and night. Make us to be like trees planted by streams of water, yielding their fruit in their season, never withering, gaining an internal, invisible nourishment so that, in anything that we do for you and for your kingdom, we will prosper. Make us not like the wicked, who have so little weight that the wind can drive them away. Though we feel alone in this, though we see and feel the pressures against righteousness by the world outside, we know, Father, that the whole congregation of the righteous will stand with us. Above all, you stand with us, for you know our path, the end from the beginning. You know that path of wisdom, and you delight to show it to us. You also illuminate for us the path of the wicked, and you show us its end. We praise you that Jesus walked not in the counsel of the wicked, nor did he stand in the way of sinners, nor ever sit in the seat of scoffers. We praise you that He delighted to do your will, that He delighted in your law, that He always meditated on it, that He therefore has become for us the life-giving vine who nourishes our faith always.

A Friendly Introduction to Biblical Literacy

Posted by Paige (Yes, I’m still around here sometimes!)

I’m pleased to be able to share with you a quirky biblical literacy resource that I created this year. Originally commissioned for a women’s Bible study conference last fall, this half-hour talk instructs beginning Bible students in the difference between “doing devotions” and studying a passage, using Isaiah 61 to reinforce my main points.

It’s meant to be a primer, so the content won’t interest most readers of this blog. But if you listen for just a few minutes, you’ll likely think of a few people who would benefit from this kind of friendly instruction. (Of course, if you listen to the whole thing I will be flattered!)

This talk is on YouTube not because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I created slides to accompany it, for the sake of visual learners. The talk can be enjoyed profitably just as an audio recording, too. Please pass this link along, as appropriate. Thanks!

Dating the Israelite Exodus from Egypt

Posted by David Gadbois

In 2014 a filmmaker named Timothy Mahoney released the documentary Patterns of Evidence, seeking to demonstrate the historical veracity of the Exodus account, largely through its sympathetic treatment (if not outright endorsement) of a revisionist timeline known as the New Chronology, an idea that has its genesis in English Egyptologist David Rohl.  Mahoney is not a scholar but claims to have spent over a decade of research on the film, and while he seems very well-meaning it must be said that this thesis does more harm than good to those believers and unbelievers who are making an honest inquiry into the matter.

The movie has since made its way to Netflix, and has become influential to many evangelicals.  Unfortunately, this is leading many people down the blind alley of the New Chronology.  This scheme down-dates the traditional Egyptian chronology by several centuries.  There is no need to embrace a revisionist timeline.  It is imperative that we, as Christians, handle the matters of biblical history with great care, so that in our apologetic witness we would not give reason for skeptics to cast doubt on the biblical testimony.  The truth matters and, indeed, God is truth.

The dating of Israel’s exodus from Egypt is a fairly daunting issue even for scholars who specialize in the relevant historical fields and devote their lives to such issues.  It is even more daunting for laymen such as myself to sift through such matters.  But we can at least consider an overview of the positions held by sound, contemporary scholars.

At this time Ted Wright, Bryant Wood, Charles Ailing, and Douglas Petrovich are at the forefront in defending a 15th century exodus from Egypt (1446/7 BC).

On the other side, favoring a 13th century exodus under the pharaoh Ramses II, are Kenneth Kitchen and James Hoffmeier (as of at least 2007).  While their conclusions may not be correct, I consider their motives and expertise unimpeachable.

John Currid does seem warm to the idea of a 13th century exodus in the EP Study Commentary of Exodus vol. 1 (2014, first published in 2000), but nonetheless concludes “For now, the date of the exodus and the conquest must remain an open question.  More evidence is needed.  I would agree with Waltke that a definitive verdict cannot be arrived at ‘until more data puts the date of the conquest beyond reasonable doubt.  If that be true, either date is an acceptable working hypothesis, and neither date should be held dogmatically.'”

From what I can tell, Bruce Waltke seems to have gone from a firm 15th century advocate to saying that the matter is “uncertain” in his OT Theology (2007).

More recently, Duane Garrett has echoed this uncertainty in his Exodus commentary (Kregel Exegetical Library, 2014).  He provides a helpful, up-to-date, and balanced overview of the various positions, and covers the merits of not only the Early Date (15th century) and Late Date (13th century) but also a Very Early Date (16th century) and a Very Late Date (12th century).  He only dismisses “radical revisions to Egyptian chronology and history carried out by amateurs and by a few unconventional scholars” such as David Rohl (p. 102, see fn).

I mention the above names for several reasons: 1.  because they are alive and can be expected to express reasonably up-to-date scholarship 2.  because they are reformed or evangelical, as best as I can tell, or at least are highly sympathetic to the biblical account.  As such I believe they are arguing in good faith.  3.  because they have relevant specialization and expertise on the subject.  As far as I can tell, everyone listed except Wright and Kitchen have PhD’s in relevant fields, and collectively the breadth of their expertise covers ANE history, religions, archeology, semitic languages, Egyptology, middle Egyptian, and so on.

The most relevant, direct evangelical exchange on the subject is probably the back-and-forth between Bryant Wood and James Hoffmeier found in JETS 48/3 and 50/2 (here and here).

The most interesting recent developments on the archaeological side of the issue, that post-date the above literature, come from Douglas Petrovich.  He has maintained for some time that the pharaoh of the Exodus is Amenhotep II, and that the timing was 1446 B.C. (Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus-Pharaoh, TMSJ 17/1).  Moreover, he holds that the Israelites departed from their dwelling place in the archaeological site now known as Avaris.  In this he is in line with the views of Bryant Wood.  He just recently earned his PhD in ANE history and archeology from the University of Toronto (where Wood and Hoffmeier also earned their doctorates), and made a bit of news last year when he claimed that ancient Hebrew was the first proto-consonantal alphabet and derivative of Egyptian hieroglyphics.  He published the case for this thesis in The World’s Oldest Alphabet:  Hebrew as the Language of the Proto-Consonantal Script.

This finding goes back to only 2012. With the names of three biblical characters in view on the materials he studied, the implications obviously go above and beyond the nature of the written Hebrew language.

Moreover, he believes that recent Austrian-led archaeological digs at Avaris have turned up evidence that the site was abruptly abandoned during the reign of Amenhotep II.  He made this case in  The Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 5/2.  He intended to write a book, “Evidence of Israelites in Egypt”, based on this and other recent archaeological evidence.  After inquiring about the status of the book via e-mail correspondence to Dr. Petrovich, he wrote back and indicated that the timing of publication of this book is currently uncertain.  He decided to publish the book on the Hebrew alphabet first, since he considered that thesis to be more unassailable in the scholarly community.

I can only mention in passing that there is, likewise, recent archaeological evidence that has surfaced regarding Israel’s conquest of Canaan in a compatible time-frame, for instance at the site of Ai.

Hopefully the Lord will continue to bless this generation as more archaeological work is done and the data continue to shed light on this difficult topic.  For now, I would assert that the revisionist timeline of Rohl is an unnecessary diversion.  It would be far wiser to pay attention to the work of the solid evangelical scholars mentioned above.  In that regard, I believe that the legitimacy of criticisms of the historicity of the exodus on the basis of archaeological evidence is quickly evaporating.

 ***Post script.  I would not want to dissuade anyone who is reasonably informed and of a discerning spirit to view Patterns of Evidence.  It is an entertaining documentary, with very high production values, and it does retain redeeming features:  the archaeology of Jericho, Joseph’s tomb, the Merneptah Stele, the Berlin Fragment, and interviews with a handful of conservative scholars.

Laban’s Teraphim

I know that some people are probably wondering if I’m ever going to write on this blog again. I will. Some may have started wondering if I’m even still alive. I am. I will have more to announce later on, but my family and I are in some transition processes. That’s all I wish to say for now.

My wife and I have been reading the golden biblical-theological introduction to the Old Testament that Reformed Theological Seminary put out. The work on Genesis is by John Currid. He has this to say about the teraphim of Laban:

According to the laws of Nuzi, the family gods (teraphim) played a vital role in the process of inheritance, for whoever possessed these images was considered the rightful heir. No wonder Laban was in a panic over the loss of his household gods when Jacob fled from him to Canaan (Gen. 31:33-35). Laban, in reality, was more concerned about the whereabouts of his gods than about his relatives and flocks (p. 61).

To add on to this insight a bit, if Laban was more concerned about the household gods, because they were the indicator of rightful inheritance, then it is further confirmation of his obsession with money and goods. Obviously, he wanted not only to control what he regarded as his own property, but he also wanted to control who got the inheritance. This might throw an interesting light as well on Rachel’s motives for stealing them.

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